April 1990

Septima Poinsette Clark

Civil Rights Leader

Septima Poinsette Clark

Long before sit-in demonstrations and bus boycotts, Mrs. Septima Poinsette Clark waged a personal war against racism. in the early 1920s, she was involved in efforts to allow blacks to teach in public schools in Charleston. But after she was named vice president of the Charleston branch of the NAACP, she was barred from teaching in South Carolina public schools. She was firm in her resolve and never wavered in her support of the NAACP. Mrs. Clark spent all of her life to insure a better lifestyle for all people. She worked with the YWCA, the Tuberculosis Association, and the Charleston Health Department. She provided valuable training to the residents of the Carolina sea islands. She also established schools for illiterate adults. Septima Clark’s national prominence came as a result of their work to establish citizenship schools throughout the 11 states of the Deep South. When legislation called for Americans to be able to read and interpret portions of the Constitution in order to register to vote, Mrs. Clark devoted her time to teaching these skills to thousands of southern blacks. Based on her experiences at the Highlander Folk School near Chattanooga, Tennessee, the citizenship schools were formed to teach blacks to read, write and understand the basic structure of the government. Mrs. Clark recruited teachers to help in the citizenship schools with the help of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Until her death in 1987, Septima Clark symbolized the strength of the American civil rights movement. Her decades of devotion to the cause of freedom have earned her the title, “the grandmother of the civil rights movement.”